#harrypottersummer-Prisoner of Azkaban Pt. 1

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I want to apologize for the decided lack of posts last week. It turns out fever delirium makes it sort of hard to write….

So, as always with these, I want to start out with a couple of random ideas that occurred to me while rereading. And I actually have quite a few here!

As much as I like the last book, Prisoner of Azkaban is really where things start to get going. If Philospher’s Stone is all the setup of the world, and Chamber of Secrets has all of the secret magical mechanics for Voldemort’s story squirreled away, then this one has all of the character development for the previous generation and war tucked into its corners. Maybe it’s just because these were the three that I never had to wait for, but I think between them they form the foundation for the series. And I’m pretty sure that’s intentional. As we all know, everything’s going to come crashing down next book, and that bedrock’s necessary for the audience to see the ways that crash changes things.

Again, I’m about halfway through this book: around the point where we find out Sirius “betrayed” the Potters.

*****

If you’ve read any tumblr post, ever, you probably know the way in which the current fandom likes to try and cram Muggle technology into the Wizarding World. These ideas are usually hit and miss for me: sometimes they’re creative and interesting, sometimes they seem out of character for the setting. This is mostly to say I completely get the urge, though. When Harry’s messing around with a dip pen and inkwell under the sheets in the middle of the night, and complaining about ink stains on the bed, I sort of want to shake him. Child! Get a ballpoint and a notebook! Recopy it onto parchment later!

*****

I find myself wondering if Ron’s rhapsody about Honeyduke’s is what got turned into “Ron loves food” for the movies. I don’t think we’ve seen him quite so gleeful about it before.

*****

Lupin’s reaction to Snape in their early scenes is very interesting on reread. Not knowing the background you assume his pleasantness in the face of Snape’s viciousness is either just a personality trait or an attempt to avoid a feud with a coworker. Understanding what went on in the past, though, it seems like an offer of an olive branch. Lupin’s trying to put the grudge behind him, and isn’t being met in turn. Snape either can’t or won’t forget.

*****

Speaking of whom, did Snape know that Sirius wasn’t actually a Death Eater? Would he have known that Peter was?

*****

It’s easy to think that Harry’s being incredibly stupid by using the Marauder’s Map to sneak into Hogsmeade. For all he knows there’s a murderer after him, and regardless of the actual case there are still horrific, soul-sucking monsters that he’s weak against guarding the village.

But it’s also completely understandable from the perspective of a teenager who’s been completely ostracized from any sort of group all his life. He’s probably thinking that once again he’s been left out of things more than he’s thinking about the risk; it’s not like Harry’s a character that takes personal risk into account that much in the first place.

I would also like to point out how Hermione is the only one who has any sense here. Wasn’t there a meme at one point about how Harry and Ron both should just listen to her all the time?

*****

This was never one of my favorite books in the series; in fact it’s actually pretty low on the list. I’m definitely enjoying it more this time around than I ever have before though. From a character perspective it’s sort of a gold mine.

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#harrypottersummer-Chamber of Secrets

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Only one extra post this week, largely because I’m finding that my thoughts on this book are either very similar to my thoughts on the last book (“Wow, it’s really amazing how much she’s already setting up here!”) or fairly standard as far as observations go (“She’s really expanding the world! Almost like this is the second book in a series!”).

So I only have a couple of things here that are really worth sharing. So let’s go!

*****

This is basically another comment on setup, but the Wizarding World is so broad, and Harry knows so little about it that it would be very easy for J. K. to just sort of add whatever she needed for the plot to work. I remember, when I first read them, that I felt that was what she was doing a lot of the time, but no. The more I reread here the more I see that almost every little quirk in the world and the people is given some sort of understated introduction before it becomes important.

I also like that all of this setup has an easiness to it that I don’t see that often. I’m usually pretty good about picking out the Chekov’s Gun in a piece early on, but rereading I’m still not sure I could do it for Harry Potter accurately. Some of this is because there are so many of them, but I think a lot of it has to do with how they’re placed in the story. They have a tendency to come up naturally, as a small part of some humorous episode instead of flatly in the introduction, so they’re hard to see for what they are. I’m impressed; it’s good misdirection.

*****

Did Malfoy just buy out the entire stock of Borgin and Burkes in Halfblood Prince? Literally everything Harry eyes up during his Floo-induced mishap shows up there. I suppose the guy has enough money to do so, but dang. Seems to defeat the purpose of selling to them in the first place.

*****

I just love Molly Weasley. She’s the comic stereotype of the disgruntled houeswife, who’s alternately sweet and hot tempered, and it’s treated seriously here. J. K. gives her dignity and capability where a lot of authors wouldn’t, and it makes her a pretty unique character so far as literature is concerned. So often being a housewife is seen as a mark of failure or silliness, so it’s good to get a character who can hold their own and chose that because it was what she wanted.

*****

I’ve also decided to try to make some theme jewelry for each book as we go through this, since drawing was mostly an exercise in frustration. For Chamber of Secrets I made some phoenix feather earrings, and wrote up a quick tutorial for them.

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What You’ll Need:

– Four gold tone eyepins
-Two gold tone headpins
-Two large gold beads, any shape
-Six small black beads
-Two large red bicone beads, around the same size as the gold ones
-Two smaller bicones in yellow or orange
-About four inches length of chain in bronze or gold
-Four small jump rings
-Four cord crimps
-Two gold tone earring hooks
-Sheer red fabric, enough to make four small 2” square shapes
-Fabric paint in several fire colors (gold, orange, red, bronze, black, etc.)
-One pair round nose pliers (if you have them), one pair wire cutters, one pair needle nose pliers (two if you have no round nose)

This is a pretty simple project, so lot of it is easily open to interpretation and customization. The basic description is of what I did, but play around with the colors and styles of the beads or fabric and see what you get! Also, if you don’t know how to open and close jump rings, eye pins, or chain links, I’ve tried to give written descriptions, but a tutorial with pictures might be helpful.

1) Assemble the tops of the earrings. Do this by feeding one small black bead, one large gold bead, and one more small black bead onto an eyepin. Once all three are seated at the loop on the bottom, make another loop at the top. Do this by placing your needle nose pliers about 1mm away from the edge of the last bead, bending the wire back at an angle, placing your round nose pliers at the bend, and then wrapping the wire around one of their tips. When the loop is completed, cut the excess.

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You can also make a loop with needle nose pliers if you don’t have round nose. It will look a little strange, but nothing noticeable until you get up close.

2) Attach the earring hook to the open loop. Then close the loop by holding each side of the split with a pair of pliers and moving the open end backwards and forwards until it is in alignment with the rest of the piece.

3) Measure out four lengths of chain and separate them. I’m using about an inch each, which makes for fairly long earrings; you can adjust to your own taste.

4) Feed the smaller bicone onto another eyepin and make a loop at the top, like we did in step one.

5) Take one length of chain and attach one end to one of the loops on the smaller bicone, the other to the loop on the black/gold bead combination that doesn’t have the earring hook attached to it. Open the chain links by finding the split in the link, taking a pair of pliers on either side of it, and pulling one forward towards yourself and the other backwards away. Close the links by moving both ends back towards each other in the same way.

6) Feed one small black bead and the large red bicone onto one of the headpins. Again, make a loop at the top of this, then attach one end of another length of chain to this loop, the other to the free loop on the smaller bicone. They should look roughly like this:

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7) Test for length by putting them on. If too long, take out a couple of links in the chain. Repeat these first seven steps for the second earring.

8) On a piece of paper, draw out the template for the fabric “feather.” Mine look like this, with the size at about 2” long and 1 ½” wide, though you can adjust the shape to your liking. Pin or trace this onto the fabric and cut four of them out.

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9) Seal the edges of the fabric with the fabric paint, and then use the rest to paint the fabric to look like the spine and barbs of the feather. I used bronze for the edges, and gold and orange for the details, but again, design yours to your own taste.

10) When dry, crimp all four “feathers” into the four open crimp beads. Then, cut small strips up each side of the fabric, again to mimic the barbs of a natural feather. Be careful not to cut too far through on either side.

11) Attach two feathers to each earring with jump rings, one on the first link of the chain after the gold bead combination and one halfway between that and the smaller bicone.

12) Wear and enjoy!

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The Vorrh by B. Catling

The-Vorrh

Standalone, Vintage Books, 2015, 500 pgs.

At the heart of the world sits a forest, endless, impenetrable, and full of strange things. One man will try to cross it as a bitter mercenary tries to stop him. One unique boy will find his destiny in the center of it, away from the home of his youth and the nosy girl who barged her way into his life. A photographer will try to capture its spirit, a madman will guard its edges, and a writer will wander into it seeking fame or absolution or the first sense of himself. Regardless, all will go into the Vorrh, and none will find quite what they’re looking for.

And now to Negativity Fortnight, Part 2!

Like I said in our previous Negativity Fortnight, I was never going to like this one, strictly on the basis of what it was. Which is a shame; it was sort of good to get to a book that really made me analyze it, that was fairly challenging. There’s a hell of a lot going on in the novel, both symbolically and strictly plotwise, and on some level it was just nice to read something that made me feel like I was really using my brain.

Because The Vorrh is a complex interworking of postcolonial narrative, self-exploratory literary fiction, and classic quest fantasy. But, as good as firing up the analytical part of myself again was, and, as much as I hate to say it, for my money that’s also most of what’s wrong with it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I usually want genre-breaking in my stories; I like unconventional mixes and new ideas. When they work they’re a beautiful thing, and there’s plenty an author used to literary fiction as a style could bring to a fantasy plot that I would love to read. Lit Fic’s sense of grey morality could help break down the easy dehumanization of the heroes’ enemies that a lot of fantasy worlds fall into, for example.

Or its eye for complex characterization could take the standard fantasy archetypes and deepen them, creating characters the like of which we’ve never seen before. Detailed sensory description could really aid in atmosphere and world building, etc. There are plenty of ways to go with this, but my main point here is that there’s a lot I would be glad to see imported between genres.

There are, however, also a lot of things that I definitely don’t want to see imported from Lit Fic. I’m trying to think of how to boil my myriad complaints down here, but I think my main issues come down to three things.

First, there are too many ideas pinging around here to coalesce into a sensible whole. I feel like this is probably meant to be post modern, but even knowing what it’s attempting to do I don’t like it. Second, the novel has a major problem with scale. I usually read fantasy for huge and worldshaking, and most of this book just…isn’t. It’s insular and navel-gazing, in a way I typically try to avoid. Thirdly, in an issue that is partially comprised of the first two, partially its own thing, while I definitely don’t feel like I’m reading stereotypical fantasy, I just feel like I’m reading stereotypical literary fiction instead.

And at least I enjoy stereotypical fantasy.

The book has about four major plotlines, and for the most part they don’t seem to really connect to each other in any real way. As far as plot is concerned, that’s fine, but with regards to the worldbuilding, it isn’t. Steampunk robots butt up against Christian angels and the Garden of Eden, butt up against witch doctors and Grecian monsters and eldritch abominations that live beneath the earth.

It’s not that you can’t combine all of these things, but you sort of have to do it gracefully. Here it’s just thrown in. The violently contrasting styles barely even interact with each other. Up until the very end they’re all relegated to their own individual plotlines, basically cutting off any ability for them to form into a coherent world.

And when you look at what the bones of the four plotlines actually are, well….

1)Douchebag genius who uses women.

2)Douchebag genius who uses men.

3)A young man’s sexual awakening and subsequent transformation into yet another douchebag genius.

4)Formerly colonized mercenary takes on a job to kill the man who means to cross the Vorrh, the forest of memory and story itself, so that in crossing he may “[heal] the gashes and fractures of our past.” (p 93)

Now number four was actually interesting to me. The sections with Tsungali and Williams are epic and insightful, combining a huge issue that the world is still trying to recover from with fantasy’s grandiose and mythic approach to storytelling. Think a fantasy take on Heart of Darkness and you’ll get the idea. It’s tight and adventurous, even with the anticlimax at the end, and if the entire novel had followed course I would have loved this book.

But one, two and three are pretty much exactly the sort of thing I run away screaming from modern literary fiction to avoid. So much of this is meant to be groundbreaking and so little of it actually reads that way to me. Douchebags being tragically romanticized seems typical to me, as do the awful things that happen as punishment for the smallest slights the characters make. Ditto the women being either endlessly giving, harshly punished, or complete ciphers.

Now, to the book’s credit, I don’t think we’re ultimately supposed to like the tragically romantic douches. Nor do I think we’re supposed to be unsympathetic to the female characters’ falls. But even knowing that, it’s still a little hard to get past lines like “He justified his weakness with the ill health and puerile wishes that all men have injected into them by their mothers…” (p. 110). Or the part where our young man turns out to be just so good he literally bangs a woman out of her blindness. None of this is anything I want to read in the first place.

I can typically deal with books that I consider sort of sexist, too, whether they’re pointedly so or not. For the love of god, though, give me any amount of chainmaille bikinis and bulging muscles that know what they are than this, which wants to be different but falls into the same old traps.

And, really, nothing about the above descriptions fully manages to convey how constantly and consistently The Vorrh managed to annoy me while reading. This was not a good ride for me. At all.

Like I said, a lot of this is that this book is just not my thing. There’s too much of what I hate about Lit Fic and not enough of what I love about fantasy for the combination to work for me. And being not my thing, aside from the Tsungali sections, it reads as alternately pretentious and ridiculous to me.

Let me put it this way.

I’m the sort of person who will stare at a passage for an hour trying to come up with a working interpretation of it. I’m very much the reader who wants to figure the riddle out, and I will reread and scribble and bash my head against it until I get at least somewhere. Here, I know, perfectly well, that there’s a lot of nuance that I’m missing in this book. Still, I have absolutely no desire to go back to it to try to figure it out. For me, that really says something.

#harrypottersummer–Philosopher’s Stone Pt. 2

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So, first and foremost, I got one of them done at least. Not inked, but decent looking.

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Fanart is not my forte; I think I need to make some jewelry or do some embroidery or something for the next book.

And now, more random thoughts.

*****

You know, it’s also kind of astounding how many little things Rowling works in here that are going to pop up later. The unknown story behind the Bloody Baron, Harry asking why Voldemort came after him in the first place, the tiniest hints of Snape’s background: all are going to come up later as major plot points.

She’s even already starting to paint Dumbledore as morally ambiguous, in a way that’s very subtle for the intended audience. When you’re a kid reading these, you sort of think it’s awesome that this ridiculously powerful wizard had enough confidence in Harry to just help him along the way instead of pushing him out of danger. Looking back, though, it’s kind of like “Really, you decided to let the eleven year old handle the life and death situation!?”

My favorite though, so far, is probably “yet [Harry] sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.” I laughed and laughed.

*****

I’d honestly forgotten how much of a snot Hermione was at the beginning here, and how awful Harry and Ron were to her. Considering how close they become later it’s hard to remember that it takes the better part of a book for them to even begin to be friendly.

And speaking of Hermione, I’ve literally never understood why she lied about the troll. Seriously, she could have just said “I ran to the bathroom, and they must have noticed I was gone from the Great Hall, because they came running down the corridor looking for me and yelling my name.” It serves the same purpose of keeping them out of trouble and doesn’t untruthfully implicate herself. I get that it’s supposed to be the first instance of her loosening up about the rules, but her standing up for Harry and Ron and then starting to hang out with them could have done the same thing. Her loosening up was sort of an ongoing process anyway.

*****

So my book Ron looks a little bit like a very young Rick Astley. Just thought you’d all want to know.

*****

One of the things I’ve always loved about the books is how much you need all three of the Trio to form a functional, adventuring whole. The Devil’s Snare at the end of Philosopher’s Stone is a good example: you need Hermione’s book knowledge of what it is and what it dislikes, Harry’s calm in the face of danger to suggest a fire, and Ron’s instinct to jump to magic to solve the problem. And the rest of the tasks continue on in the same course. It’s always frustrated me that the movies cut so much of that out.

*****

Also!

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Boyfriend had coincidentally bought tickets to Harry Potter night at our local symphony before we’d even decided to do this reread, so on Saturday we got to go. I felt awkward taking pictures of total strangers, we were far enough away that I couldn’t get good shots of the official costume contest, so I have no proof of how many people there were dressed up. There were so many, though! It was basically cosplay night at the symphony.

It’s nice to see the fandom’s still a presence, even after the canon’s been done for years, and it makes me giggle a little to see how we haven’t lost our tendency to grab a striped scarf for everything even vaguely Harry Potter themed.

It was also great to hear the music again, and to finally notice the variety of it. Obviously Hedwig’s Theme is iconic, but for every song that I remembered there was another that I couldn’t even place to a specific movie.

And considering how magical Heinz Hall is on its own, it seemed like the perfect setting.

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So next week, on to Chamber of Secrets. This was up there as one of my favorites when I first read them, but I know a lot of other people have problems with it. Looking forward to seeing if it holds up.

 

#harrypottersummer–Philosopher’s Stone Pt. 1

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Status update: At the beginning of Chapter 9 as of last night, about halfway through the book. This first one, at least, I should finish well within the week deadline.

And I think, as of now, I just have a couple of random thoughts, though I’ve started some doodles. Hopefully those will be inked and decent looking by Monday!

*****

First, I know it’s not exactly a novel observation that this was a series that very much grew up as its audience did, but it’s honestly kind of amazing to look back and see how much it did grow. Reading it again after years my thought is that Philosopher’s Stone is bordering on the sort of children’s book that adults can’t read. It has an incredibly intriguing world, but very simple sentence structure, very simple plot, and very simple characters.

But at the same time you can see where Rowling is already leaving it room to become more complex. There are plenty of instances already where this first story sort of glosses over the more horrific elements of the Wizarding World, but those elements are still there, waiting to be used. Ditto the characters: even in the first brushes with them you can tell there’s a lot about them we’re not being told.

*****

By a similar token, it’s kind of funny to see just how cartoonish everyone is, not only in their personalities but in their physical descriptions. I’m usually pretty good about remembering details like hair and eye color, but even with that there are very few books where I can clearly picture a character’s face, body language, dress style, etc.

And I’m doing it with almost every character here, because the way Rowling talks about them is so expressive. No wonder we got such good covers across the board for these; they have to be an illustrator’s dream come true.

*****

Harry himself is very interesting here, too. We’re used to thinking of him as brave and brash, as the hero, and he does grow into that. But here he’s still young and uncertain, and the first thing about him that sticks out to me isn’t bravery, but kindness. Treat him even remotely decently and he’ll do everything in his power to reassure you and cheer you up. I appreciate that in a hero, especially since it’s done in such small ways. Most authors, when they want to show that, take it to big, dramatic anti-bullying speeches, and Harry’s just kind of there, doing it as a natural part of his personality.

*****

On a final, silly note, “MOTORCYCLES DON’T FLY!” was a sort of pre-internet meme in Middle School for me and my friends. I was always sort of disappointed when it didn’t take off as one of the catchphrases of the series, a la “Yer a wizard, Harry.”

Maybe its time has come. I think that needs to be one of Monday’s doodles, yes.

#harrypottersummer

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So, we’ll be back to the regular reviews next Wednesday, but this is something I’ve been meaning to do all week and haven’t gotten around to. Life has been making like a zombie and eating my brains out, and things have been so hectic that I haven’t even managed to make a rather simple announcement post.

Which naturally means it’s a great idea to pile more work on myself, right?

Here’s the thing: a couple of friends have decided to try to do this book a week Harry Potter reread, and I’ve decided to try to join them. And since, aside from Facebook, this is my main social media outlet, any updates, thoughts, or creative endeavors associated with it are probably going to be making their way here as well.

Which means more posts on this blog for those seven weeks, even if they’re simpler ones.

I have a decent buffer of books built up, so I’m going to try to keep on doing the regular reviews on Wednesday, and then, on top of that, give little update posts on Saturday and Monday. Not entirely sure what these will be yet. Retrospectives? Random thoughts? Doodles or fiction sketches? Joyful exultation if I actually manage to finish the books on time?

I’m sure I’ll think of something. Maybe whatever I do will change week to week, maybe I’ll fall into some sort of rhythm. Everything, obviously, will be tagged “harrypottersummer.”

And if the schedule becomes a little too hectic, and I can’t make a regular post every Wednesday, then I’ll definitely do one every other week. Hopefully that’s not too much of a cop-out for a couple of months.

I do apologize for the rain check on Negativity Fortnight part deux; that, at least, I’ll make sure to get up next week.

Is anyone else thinking of doing this, or even anyone on WordPress? It’s shown up as screencaps on Facebook, so I assume it’s spread a decent amount, but the actual tumblr post doesn’t seem to have that many notes. I haven’t even seen anyone discussing or tagging for it here, and it would be nice to see what other people do come up with if anyone here’s participating.

Regardless, should be fun, if a challenge. While I’ve reread them several times in the past, I’m looking forward to seeing how the books strike me this time around. And, of course, to getting back to one of the best parts of my childhood!

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

labyrinth

Languedoc Triliogy Book 1, G. P. Putnam Son’s, 2005, 508 pgs.

Two women. One, Alice, a modern academic who mistakenly gets caught up in a conspiracy dating back thousands of years after volunteering to help on her friend’s archeological dig. The other, Alaïs, part of the nobility of medieval Southern France whose father carries a grave secret with him. As Alice attempts to evade capture by the mysterious cult looking for her, Alaïs tries to save her home and her Cathar neighbors from Northern invaders conducting a Crusade. Across time their stories will meet, finally giving voice to those whose religion was reviled as heresy and whose lands were stolen on this flimsy excuse. And through it all, between the two of them, they will protect the real secret of the Grail.

Aaaand, it’s negativity fortnight time! Begin!

This is actually probably the worse of the books for the next two reviews, if only for the fact that it’s the one I should have liked. For all the problems I have with next week’s book, I do realize I was never going to be fond of it, simply for what it is, and that does effect my judgement. We’ll get back to that next week, though.

Labyrinth, on the other hand, really should have been something I loved. I look at all the topics it covers and see what could be a list entitled “Things I Like Narratively.” I mean, archeology, herb lore, Grail legends, reincarnation and shared memories, ancient Egyptian relics, conspiracies, medieval settings, religious conflict? All of these are things that I’m pretty innately interested in. For some of them it’s like telling me a book involves wizards of fairies. I’m going to be there.

This one didn’t work, though, and the disappointment is further exacerbated by the fact that it could have been very good. For a lot of the structural elements the author does seem to know what she’s doing, and does it well.

The setting, for example, if beautifully drawn. Modern-day Southern France may be sketched in a typical, picturesque travelogue style, but the medieval side of things is wonderful. It’s complex and detailed, giving constant little asides about the politics or the way of life or the new religion cropping up.

Neither French history or Cathar history are subjects I know enough about to gauge the accuracy here, but again, Mosse does seem like she knows what she’s doing. The inclusion of a historical reading list and language notes at the end make it seem like it’s well researched, at least. And even if it isn’t, the portrayal is convincing enough for the sake of the story; there are times when you really feel like you’re caught in the middle of this conflict.

The pacing of the novel, too, is good. This is primarily a mystery adventure with a little magic thrown in, and it has the build for it. From the strange initial happenings to the good scattering of clues and consistently growing suspense, this has everything you’d want from the genre. In fact, it was the build that primarily kept me reading. I very much wanted to solve the mystery, to see how everything played out, and that’s the work of some well-developed plotting.

But for me it’s always going to be about the characters, and that’s where it all falls apart for the book. I have written down in my notes for this review “these feel more like caricatures than characters,” and that about sums it up. Let me be frank here: when I made that resolution to read more books geared at adults this year, I did so hoping for more complexity than the standard YA fare, not less.

When the protagonists are all steadfastly dutiful and kind, and the antagonists are all remorseless monsters, and neither group seems to have any personality beyond that, you know the characterization’s gone wrong, though. Given, most of the antagonists are French Catholic, and there’s a part of me that wants to blame their all being hilariously evil on the fact that the author’s British. But still, it’s a major problem.

This lack of any sort of depth to the characters is frustrating on several levels. The first is in relation to how well-developed the setting is in comparison. This feels like a real place, so it’s doubly noticeable when the people in it don’t feel like real people. I think this may be the one point where the sweeping good and evil plot that’s set against the more down-to-earth politics is a hindrance rather than a help.

The super flat characters are especially galling considering they’re supposed to be part of something that actually happened. There’s a part of me that can’t help but feel this would have been more interesting if Mosse had nixed the Grail plotline altogether and just left the religious and political conflict, with the shared memories as the magical element.

The second is the unfortunate fact that our leads, for both the heroes and the villains, are really the worst of it. We have two sets each, one from the medieval past and one from the present, but considering the present two are supposed to be reincarnations of the past set, they have generally the same characteristics. And those characteristics are…well.

Let’s just say when you have a sweet, blushing protagonist battling a manipulative, evil slut that setup’s not only bland and annoying, it’s honestly a little offensive. This is one of the most slut-shamey books I’ve ever read, and I read a hell of a lot of YA. We all rag on Bella Swan for setting herself against the vapid “other girls,” but we forget how common that dichotomy actually is.

And at least Bella’s “other girls” weren’t literally trying to be Sexy Voldemort. Much like for the rest of the cast, this wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the four weren’t played to such extremes. Alaïs/Alice are everything you’d expect from generic strong heroines: independent, rebellious, strong-willed, kind. These all sound like good things, but you can see the strings so clearly and they have so little personality otherwise that the characters end up coming off as underdeveloped instead.

Especially when the author sets that perfect, wholesome goodness against Orianne, who pillages her father’s corpse without a second thought and her modern counterpart Marie-Cécile, who’s trying to become immortal and murdering left and right to do so.

To the book’s credit, some complication is thrown in toward the end. Sajhë, the novel’s adorable, courageous child character grows up and actually does some morally questionable things, and Guilhelm, Alaïs’ cheating, scumbag husband eventually sees the error of his ways and tries to atone. Neither are really enough to make up for the preceding 400 pages of boring, one-note lack of variation, though. Or for the fact that our leads never grow even the slightest bit of that complexity.

Though we are told that Alice is a Nickleback fan, so maybe we are supposed to be a little wary of her.

(I kid, I kid. The world was a very different place in 2005.)

I just find myself wishing that Mosse had put even a quarter of the care she took with period research into building her characters. That would have really made the book something worth reading. Instead we’re left with a slightly more interesting version of The Da Vinci Code, with all the moral depth of a bad superhero comic.